Show Review: Ghostland Observatory and DJ Lord at the Pageant (SoCo underCOVER show), October 15

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Few indie bands are as divisive as Ghostland Observatory. For every fan and critic who fawns over its catchy dance punk grooves, there are others who decry tthe band as "robot rock for the flyover states" or, as Pitchfork infamously panned "Daft Punk for frat boys."

Ghostland is officially in the same league as love 'em or hate 'em acts like Vampire Weekend and Animal Collective. That in mind, the folks at Southern Comfort know how to ensure a packed venue for the Austin duo: free booze and pizza.

Last night's gig at the Pageant was the eighth stop on the SoCo "underCOVER" tour, a series of free concerts (headlined by The Hold Steady or the Polyphonic Spree in other cities) that encourages "well-known national experimental artists pay tribute to musicians that inspire them."

It also entailed free SoCo drinks (the Pageant bar was emptied and re-stocked entirely with the stuff) and a well-lubricated, dance-friendly crowd that ran the gamut from the skinniest jeaned hipsters to frat boys to half-nude ravers clad in fuzzy rainbow leg warmers.
But how was the performance?

My date aptly summed it up as "sensory overload." Then again, I'm not sure what she was expecting when there was a disclaimer on the door warning there would be "an intense light show" and basically instructed the audience to avoid looking directly at the band. SoCo even handed out cheapo sunglasses to cover their asses in case someone went blind or had a seizure.

Indeed, the light show was second only to Animal Collective in my recent concert-going experience, but went overboard at times with an epilepsy-inducing strobe light and enough rainbow-fanned lasers that I half-expected to be asked to lie down and stare at the ceiling for a laser Floyd interlude.

Sonically, it was vintage Ghostland, alternating between industrial-strength rave rock with vocoders and synthesizers hitting every frequency (at worst, sounding like an angry computer; at best, like a thumping digital symphony) and straight-up guitar-dominated dance punk.

Beatmaster Thomas Ross Turner played drums occasionally but was perched behind a rat's nest of electronics most of the night, looking like a synth Dracula in his trademark cape. No one cuts a rug quite like frontman Aaron Behrens, and he looked every bit the rockstar weaving in and out of a smoke-covered stage, wearing aviators with his long-black hair neatly divided into two braids.

The show's billing implied a set of cover songs but it was almost entirely Ghostland originals from 2007's Paparazzi Lightning and just one track a few tracks (such as "Heavy Heart") from their godawful 2008 follow-up Robotique Majestique. They closed with a trio of Prince-written covers, including crowd favorite "Nothing Compares to You" which featured Behrens doing some epic guitar noodling and the closer "Rich Man," originally by Colorado electro duo 3OH!3 a Ghostland original.

All in all, it was a very solid, entertaining show, especially since it was free. And divisiveness aside, everybody there seemed to love the band. Then again, it could have just been the free booze.

As for the opener, Public Enemy's legendary DJ Lord, well, it was both bizarre and disappointing. It was basically an hour and a half DJ set of him playing cheesy top 40 songs from the early '90s-- everything from House of Pain and Naughty By Nature to Nirvana and the White Stripes. It was a middle-school-dance greatest hits mixtape. He must missed the memo that he was supposed to "pay tribute to the artists that inspired him." To be fair, though, the crowd was not enthusiastic early on, and it's his job to get the party started. It's not his fault St. Louis only gets down to "Brass Monkey" and Kriss Kross.

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